Descriptions of the Christian life often take one of two turns. The Christian life is either one of hard drudgery as we seek to either gain or retain salvation. In this model some being or entity is meticulously keeping track of our actions to immediately send us to hell if we die after committing a sin that we have not or could not erase through a prayer of repentance. The great desire of Christians who hold this model is to hope and pray that they will have the fortitude and strength to become, by God’s grace, worthy of eternal life.
The other model has us without any worry whatsoever for Christ has done it all. We will live better automatically by the slow progress of Christian life. One need not do anything but simply passively “rest” in Jesus. As we do less and less Christ will do more and more. Again the direction of this model of Christianity is the eternal life of the individual Christian. Here, because Christ has given us salvation, we need not work for it. And thus, presumably, believing in that will allow us to be changed people. Here the great desire is to remove from people the fear of loss of salvation and allow them to live in the certainty.
It seems as though we bounce back and forth between the two poles. We move from emphasizing Christian responsibility to assurance of salvation. When one side is emphasized, we seem to feel as though we are missing something, and we probably are, and then we go back to the other side. Bouncing back and forth between works and lack of works.
Is there a way out? I think that both models have within them the core driving force of “personal individual salvation.” We are meticulously trying to keep track of our sins due to that fear of losing salvation. Or we are constantly trying to affirm our personal individual salvation to get above that fear in model two.
Is this our only choice? Must We Choose Between Passivity and Legalism? Those who hold to model one are right, the Christian life does require effort. It does not come naturally to those of us who are born in sin. However, they are wrong in tying our salvation to that growth. Those who hold to model two are right in separating growth from our salvation. They are right in noting that growth comes from salvation and not the other way around. However, they are wrong in making growth a simple matter.
Both models err in making the ultimate purpose salvation of individuals. They ignore or limit the Great Controversy and the ultimate vindication of God’s plan as a part of the Christian life. Yes hard work is needed, but it is not to gain salvation. Salvation provides the tools to battle with Self on the great battleground. Salvation has been given to us as Christians and it is important to live in that belief.
However, if one is saved, one will work. One will even “labor to enter the rest.” There will be a struggle with self. There will be a struggle with sin. But this is not to gain salvation. This is to make sure that we do not, by our actions, make God look bad. It is to demonstrate our love for God.
It is not simply “love God and do as you please.” Your sinful nature will continue to clamor for the wrong things. We will have to deal with the old man and fight the old man until glorification removes that sinful nature from us. But we don’t do it to gain salvation. That is not our great desire. We don’t even do it to retain salvation. We do it for God and we do it for the world.
In the end, we need a change in look. We must get past the idea that the whole universe revolves around our salvation. God has given that to us. Now it is about showing an demonstrating our love for the one who has done so much for us. Even if it means working hard and doing what our flesh does not wish to do.